New Requirements on Employers of Pregnant Workers

In January of this year, Illinois enacted the Illinois Pregnancy Fairness Law, which requires employers to make certain accommodations for workers with pregnancy conditions. However, there are new proposed rules, expected to take effect in October 2015, which will require even further revisions to employers’ policies on pregnancy in the workplace.

One of the more significant proposed changes is related to the type of accommodations that will be required for employees who develop issues or conditions from their pregnancy. The new rules will require employers to engage in an interaction with the employees and applicants that is similar to the process employers engage in with employees who are disabled to determine what sort of accommodations are needed or available. Some of the "reasonable accommodations" set forth in the new rules are:

  • Modifications to an employee’s work schedule, or switching them to part-time
  • Adjustments to job assignments or temporarily switching the employee to a new position 
  • Longer and more frequent bathroom breaks 
  • Assistance with manual labor 
  • Time off to recover from conditions related to childbirth

Further, the rules provide that employers will have to grant leave to employees with pregnancy conditions if requested by the employee, unless there is an alternate effective accommodation or if the leave would subject the employer to an undue hardship. Proving a hardship is very difficult, however. This new rule will likely result in employers having to provide unpaid leave above and beyond what is already required under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The new rules also require that employers continue providing fringe benefits to their employees throughout any accommodation period – including insurance coverage when the employee is on a modified or part-time work schedule.

Employers are allowed under the rules to request documentation from the employee’s healthcare provider to support the request for special accommodations related to pregnancy. But the employer can only do this if it requests the information for disability accommodations, the accommodation would impact the ordinary operations of the employer’s business, and the requested information is not known or apparent to the employer.

The current law already requires employers to accommodate pregnancy-related conditions similar to accommodations for disabilities. These new proposed rules protect fringe benefits and make it difficult for employers to deny accommodations.

If you are an employer, you should contact an attorney at Lavelle Law to review your current policies with respect to pregnancy in the workplace and to guide you as you begin training managers or other supervisory staff about these new requirements. Our office number is (847) 705-7555.